By Julia Karow
Two years after joining Pacific Biosciences as its first chief scientific officer, Eric Schadt is heading off to New York to lead the Mount Sinai Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, where he will also run a PacBio user facility for researchers in the Eastern US.
Schadt, who in addition will serve as chair of the department of genetics and genome sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, will start his new position in August. He will remain PacBio's CSO on a part-time basis, in accordance with Mount Sinai's faculty guidelines, said Dennis Charney, dean of the medical school. In that role, he will remain in charge of PacBio's academic collaborations, both at Mount Sinai and elsewhere.
PacBio will contribute two of its prototype instruments, called "Astros," to a new user facility at the genomics institute, where they will be installed within the next year. Starting this summer, Mount Sinai will have access to these instruments at PacBio's Menlo Park, Calif., site. In addition, the institute has ordered a commercial PacBio RS instrument that is expected to arrive in New York this summer.
Both Mount Sinai and PacBio appear to be happy with the arrangement. "We like it because their technology is very exciting and can synergize with other technologies," Charney said. "I think what they get from it is the biology research that we do at Mount Sinai as it relates to medicine, and the patient populations that we have, so it's a win-win."
Mount Sinai's genomics institute was founded a couple of years ago and aims to provide state-of-the-art sequencing, computational biology, and genetics research, Charney said. According to its website, it is currently equipped with a variety of technology platforms, including the Illumina HiSeq and the ABI 3730 capillary sequencer.
The university plans to expand the institute, funding it with more than $100 million over the coming five to seven years, Charney said. Both the institute and the department of genetics and genome sciences will be housed in a new research building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The new building is currently under construction and scheduled to be ready in the fall of 2012.
The institute, which plans to hire "at least" eight to 10 new faculty over the next year, will interact with 13 other research institutes that Mount Sinai School of Medicine maintains in different disease areas, he said. "Genetics is important to all those fields, so it's like a hub-and-spokes model, where the genomics institute is going to collaborate and facilitate the research across these disease-oriented areas," Charney said. The department of genetics and genomics, meantime, will focus more on basic science.
Prior to joining PacBio, Schadt was executive scientific director of genetics at Rosetta Inpharmatics, a subsidiary of Merck. He also co-founded Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit developing an open-access platform for creating human disease models based on genomic data and other information. He said he plans to host models built at the institute on Sage's platform.
According to PacBio CEO Hugh Martin, the company realized that biological research involving its single-molecule sequencing technology, as well as computational biology in general, are important for its business, but are areas "that we as a sequencing company cannot adequately invest in."
Partnering with an institution with plans to invest in those areas was the best solution, and "Mount Sinai was willing to make that commitment," he said.
Schadt will take some ongoing academic collaborations at PacBio with him and establish new ones at Mount Sinai.
"One of the attractions to collaborating at Mount Sinai is, they're a full-blown medical center, their genetics department has pioneered a lot of the applications of genetic testing at a very early stage in the medical center arena," he said. Areas in which he would like to explore using PacBio's sequencing technology include testing newborns for rare childhood disorders, pathogen surveillance in the hospital, and genetic disease carrier screening.
In other projects, he plans to integrate PacBio data with short-read sequencing data, for example for assembling complete pathogen genomes. He said PacBio is close to submitting a manuscript on a hybrid assembly of the cholera genome from long-read and short-read data, a follow-up paper on a study of the Haitian cholera strain that PacBio published last year (IS 12/14/2010).
In addition, Schadt will stay in charge of collaborations that will remain at PacBio because they might not be of interest to Mount Sinai, Martin said.
The PacBio user facility at Mount Sinai will mainly take on collaborative research projects from East Coast research groups. The company has an agreement with Mount Sinai under which it can keep intellectual property discovered through the use of its machines at the user facility.
There will be an equivalent user facility on the West coast, Martin said, which will initially be based at PacBio.
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